Mtn. View resident uses science, economics to write 'Artemis'

Aubrie Pick/ Special to the Town Crier
Andy Weir

Following the success of the best-selling “The Martian” and its story of survival, Mountain View resident Andy Weir has written another science-fiction novel – a crime caper set on the moon.

“Artemis” chronicles the adventures of Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a Saudi Arabian woman who delivers goods and smuggles to afford the high cost of living in Artemis, the first city on the moon. When Jasmine is offered a large sum of money to assist in a heist, her involvement has unintended consequences and she gets caught up in a conspiracy to take over the city.

As an author, Weir is known for his meticulous research on the science and economics of life in space as well as his intricate descriptions of the various processes involved. He incorporated some of his research into “Artemis,” released in November, though not all of the details he brainstormed were mentioned.

“I did a lot of research and math, of course,” Weir said in an email interview. “I had to work out the economics of the city, and how they built it in the first place. The sad part (for me) is that I only got to tell the reader a tiny percentage of what I worked out. If it wasn’t important to the plot, I didn’t dwell on it.”

However, while the science and the research came naturally to Weir, he initially felt nervous about writing from the perspective of a woman. Despite the feedback he received from women who read the initial drafts of “Artemis,” Jazz remained a slightly masculine character.

“I was constantly worried that she wouldn’t come across as believable,” said Weir, a former software engineer. “I did the best that I could, and I recruited every woman I know to read it and give me feedback. But in the end, Jazz comes from a rough-and-tumble frontier town and is a bit of a tomboy.”

Some of her tomboy traits may have come from Weir’s personality. He described Jazz as a “real” version of himself, in contrast to the idealization of his personality that was reflected in “The Martian” and protagonist Mark Watney.

“(Jazz is) intelligent but has many regrets,” Weir said. “She makes bad decisions. She doesn’t always do the right thing. She’s deeply flawed. (Mark Watney) has all the qualities that I like about myself, but he doesn’t have any of my many flaws. He’s what I wish I could become.”

Science of storytelling

While the science-fiction genre often targets a specific audience, Weir’s writing appeals to a variety of readers, evidenced by the success of his first novel. “The Martian” topped the New York Times best-seller list in 2014, and the film adaptation, released the following year, garnered seven Academy Award nominations. Weir believes that readers like his work because of the way he uses science to tell the story.

“I treat science fiction as a setting, not a genre,” he said. “There are a lot of assumptions that go into making a sci-fi story. Usually there’s a war, or humanity is in danger, or it’s an action plot. I don’t go that route. I just use the science as a backdrop to tell other kinds of stories. In one case it’s a survival tale. In the next, it’s a heist novel.”

Twentieth Century Fox purchased the movie rights to “Artemis” last spring, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller are set to direct the film. Weir said he has no control over the movie, calling himself “very much an outsider” in the filmmaking process.

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